by Brendan I. Koerner
If you haven't yet read Jon Lee Anderson's latest New Yorker dispatch from Sri Lanka, you're missing out on something special. Per the always, Anderson's reporting is top-notch—his description of meeting a shattered women condemned to death by the Tamil Tigers has stuck with me for weeks now. More importantly, the piece makes a convincing case that the only way to "win" a counter-insurgency campaign is to resort to sheer brutality—a move guaranteed to lead to generations of hostility, rather than any meaningful sense of reconciliation.
The snippet I'd like to call out for your attention, though, is one of Anderson's throwaway observations. While discussing Sri Lanka's primary ethnic division, between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, he briefly delves into the racial myth that has helped make the schism so deep:
Sinhalese nationalists trace their lineage to Aryan tribes of northern India, despite the lack of evidence to support the idea. Although intermarriage across language barriers was fairly common, especially among the upper castes, Sinhalese politicians by the early twentieth century had become infused with racialist theories on "Aryanism" then being promulgated in Europe. Anagarika Dharmapala, the leader of the Sinhalese Buddhist revival movement that began under British colonial rule, said, in a frequently quoted speech, "This bright, beautiful island was made into Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals (i.e. the Tamils)."
In fact, as noted here, intermarriage has been commonplace in Sri Lanka since at least the time of Buddha. Though Tamils and Sinhalese may be separated by language, they are bound together by genetics in ways that ardent nationalists would prefer to ignore.